Syrian forces ambushed a group of rebels outside Damascus yesterday, killing 175 belonging to the Islamist extremist al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, according to state news agencies, per the Wall Street Journal. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights counted 152 dead—mostly foreigners from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Chechnya—in the raid it says was carried out by Hezbollah, which would still make the casualty toll "one of the largest in a single operation reported during much of the almost 3-year-old war," the Los Angeles Times reports. It would also mark "a significant advance" for Bashar al-Assad's efforts, Reuters notes. Rebels and opposition activists in the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta suburb, however, say the toll is much lower, and most of those killed were civilians.
One activist says 40 fighters were killed, while another Islamic rebel group puts the number at 45, most of those civilians. The Journal notes that there are contradictions, too, between state news reporting and Hezbollah's media arm, Al Manar, which says fighters were leaving the area. Syrian state media contends that rebels were entering it through southern Syria from Jordan, where they stocked up on weapons. Al Manar, meanwhile, posted video of rebels walking in a line before explosions hit and gunfire followed those trying to escape. The rebels' intended path may have been lined with land mines, the Times notes, meaning the military may have had word of the rebels' plans. (Read more Syria stories.)